I was very happy the day I was commissioned. Indeed the happiest person on the planet! And my parents, their joy knew no bounds!
Though I had no army background, I had always dreamt of joining the army and making my parents proud by fulfilling their dream.
But all that happiness drowned in a pool of sorrow when they realized where I was headed. I can’t really remember the name; it’s been a long time since I shared this story with anyone. But I haven’t forgotten it. I remember the day when my parents got to know that I was being sent to rural Assam on an operation to fight the war against militancy.
They were scared as hell. And so was I. I will not lie.
I was as scared as them. If something were to happen to me, this would be my very last time with my parents. Both of them were in their early sixties and had only me for support, as my elder brother passed away in an accident a few years back.
However, they knew well that their son had decided to serve his motherland and that made them stronger.
The day I was supposed to leave for Assam, my mother bought something for me. It was a small black thread and she made a small loop and placed it around my neck. “Maa, I don’t want all of this,” I rebelled.
“Quiet. I got this from the temple and I never want you to remove it.” I knew there was no point arguing and I had no right to blind her faith, so I gave up.
It was her way of ensuring that I was always protected and I couldn’t stop her.
The very day I arrived in Assam, there was cross-firing and several civilians were injured. But the one civilian that I couldn't stop myself from visiting was a four-year-old girl. She was gravely injured in the cross-firing while her parents and elder brother had lost their lives.
She lay still on the hospital bed and I couldn’t dare to leave her side.
Her parents, her brother, everyone she ever knew was gone, forever. Now, all she had were scars for a lifetime.
I took the black thread and placed it around her neck. She needed it more than me. If she survived, I had decided to take care of her. I was going to keep her as my own.
The next few days were tough for me. She wasn’t doing well and for me, it was the worst thing to deal with. I would visit her every single day in hopes of finding her sitting on the bed and looking at me with absolute amusement. But she lay still, fighting the war of her life like a brave soldier.
Before I met her, I wasn’t a warrior. I am not scared of admitting it.Everyone expects army men to be warriors and no doubt, all of them are but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t scared of sacrificing my life for my motherland but I worried about the consequences my other mother would face.
She had already lost one son and losing another would break her beyond my imagination. My father would act strong but I very well knew that he wasn’t.
With this little girl, I felt exactly what they must have felt when they were waiting outside the operation theater; waiting for my brother’s surgery to get over and to know of his fate. I felt it well enough.
I felt that the little girl was my very own daughter and I wanted her to be all right.
I wanted to pick her up in my arms and give her the love that she deserved.
A few days later, the doctor asked me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I was terrified of what awaited me at the hospital. I prayed for it to be positive but the human mind can never ignore the negative thoughts. I ran towards the ward and when I stopped in front of her bed, it was a moment I can never forget.
That little girl was sitting on her bed and nervously staring at me. She was aware of everything happening around her.
She sat still and appeared to be all composed, but I could see the tears clouding her eyes.
“I am really sorry, sir. She kept crying and asking for her mother. I didn’t know what to say. So I called you,” said the doctor.
“You did the right thing,” I replied. She nodded and left.
Tears rolled down the girl’s cheeks, as she stared at me with a mix of fear, anger, and sadness. I could feel her pain. When I’d got the news of my brother’s death, I remember going through the same mix of feelings. I was confused, angry, scared. For me, it was watching that phase in her form. I couldn’t hold it and picked her up in my arms.
She wrapped her arms around me and held on to me like I was her very last hope.
I gently stroked her head and she tightened her hold on me. “Ar…re…. you my fathe…rr.. f…rrr..om now,” She stumbled on her words as she sobbed.
It didn’t take me even a second to reply, “Yes beta, I am your father.”
It didn’t take me much effort to convince my CO to allow me to keep her. He was a kind man. I was to take her home with me, as soon I was relieved of my duty. Everything went smoothly for the next few months and day of my leave arrived. I was excited as well as nervous about my parents’ reaction on seeing her. After all, it was no small deal. There was more to her than just being a small girl.
My mother stared at her in complete silence as she walked around the living room. “So, you have decided to keep her with you?” she asked.
“Yes, maa. To keep her as my daughter,” I said proudly.
A week later, I went back to work leaving her with my parents, as they could take better care of her in the city. It took them a month to adjust to her and soon, things became normal. My mother would often write to me asking if I was sure of taking her responsibility.
The people around thought I was crazy to take up the responsibility of a three-year-old girl at the age of 24 and that too a girl from rural Assam.
But I was sure that I was ready for everything.
Four months later, the day arrived. The militants who had been out of action for the last few months were back and had attacked a few army officers. My men and I were called in for help.
The moment I got the news, I could feel a sense of fear but I decided to ignore it.
My mother called up and the operator connected her call. Even as I talked to her, the fear lurked at the back of my mind. I asked her about my daughter and she told me how glad she was to have her as her granddaughter.
Somewhere, she was filling in for my brother. That made me happier and the fear was gone from my mind.
That evening, my mother ran down the stairs, as the phone in the hallway rang. She had been worried about me the entire day as the news of the cross firing had reached her. She had spent the whole day praying for me.
“Hello?” she was panting.
“Hello, is this Lieutenant Sourabh Ahuja’s residence?” the voice from the other side confirmed.
“Yes. I am his mother.”
“Ma’am, we are very sorry to inform you that we lost Lieutenant Sourabh Ahuja in the cross-firing today.”
The fear that had been lurking in my mind was actually a warning of what was in store for me. It was a warning that I was talking to my mother for the last time. I should have spoken to my father too.
I should have spoken to my daughter, as that was the last time I could’ve have done it.
Two days later, my body arrived at our home. I was to be cremated the very next morning with all the state honours and all the people who knew me flooded our Nainital residence. That afternoon, the bell rang and my father opened the door. At first, he was confused seeing the visitor, as he was expecting a friend or a family member but it turned out to be the postman.
“Are you Mr. Sanjay Ahuja?” the postman asked looking at the paper he held.
“Sign here, sir.”
My father didn’t ask much and quietly signed. He handed over the letter to my father and walked away.
It’s been fourteen years since then, and my little daughter is all grown up.
Today, she completes her school life to take a step towards her future. As everyone looks for their seats, my daughter guides her grandparents to their seats in the second row. She touches their feet and takes the seat beside them.
She had turned out to be even better than I'd ever wanted her to be. She excels in her academics as well as extracurricular activities, always making her grandparents proud of her.
I hope she knows that her father is also proud of her.
The teacher calls out her name, as she is the elected speaker from her batch. She looks at her grandparents and walks up to the stage. She adjusts the microphone and places a paper on the podium. “Well, this isn’t the speech that I wrote for today.” Her voice fills the auditorium.
“This is the letter that my father wrote to my grandparents on the very day he sacrificed his life for his motherland.”
“Dear Maa and Pa,
I am very uncertain about my future today. I don’t know why, but I am. Maybe it’s the fear that has been constantly bugging me since morning.
Maybe, by the time this letter reaches you, I could be in the hospital wounded or martyred.
What I do know is that reading this letter will give you the inner peace that you have been looking for since the day bhai passed away. If I am martyred, don’t be sad. I know you will be but I don’t want you to be because wherever I am, I will always look out for you.
I will definitely meet bhai and let him know how much we missed him since the day he left.
I will scold him because it was indeed naive of him to drive recklessly without even thinking how we’d suffer without him. I know you’d want to do the same with me.
But please be strong maa and pa. Always remember that I am with you, always looking over you.
Pa, I remember the day, I took Noor home. Maa was angry and you were confused. After a lot of persuasions, you agreed. The night before I was to leave, you asked me what compelled me to bring her home.
The very moment I saw her lying on the bed, fighting for her life, I could feel the pain that maa and you went through when bhai was in the hospital.
I knew how badly maa wanted to take her son in her arms and hug him, keep him safe and how desperately you wanted to protect him and you both were shattered when he passed away. I was in the same situation. I wanted to protect her, keep her safe in my arms.
The day she hugged me tightly, I knew that no matter what, I would never let go of her.
And as you listened to me, tears rolled down your cheek and when you got up to leave the room, you stroked my head and said, “I am really proud of you, beta.”
I made you proud and that’s all I ever wanted to do and that’s what Noor will do as well.
I truly believe it. I named her Noor because she came into our lives in the darkest time and changed everything. When I am to be cremated, I want papa and Noor to do the rituals together. Whenever Noor asks about me, tell her that I’m with her and she never has to be afraid, as papa will always protect his little angel.
And when the time comes give her this letter and tell her how blessed you are, and how blessed her father was to have her in his life.
Your loving beta, Sourabh.”
“I hope that you’re looking at me papa, and I hope I have made you proud of the little things that I have achieved.”
Noor folds the paper carefully and the room bursts into applause, as everyone stands up in respect. Her grandmother wipes away her tears as her grandfather claps, letting his tears flow. She looks up at the sky and I look down at my daughter, proudly.